Slim, Sexy Yogini + Car, and what the heck are we sayin’ here at Elephant?

Via Brooks Hall
on Aug 14, 2010
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Nissan, SHIFT_the way you move

What’s good about this Nissan car ad with Tara Stiles is that it communicates about a car that has the potential to cause less harm to the environment, and it gets yoga to the eyes of a mainstream audience. But it makes mistakes in message, too.

There is a big pull-out centerfold advertisement in the July/August 2010 issue of Women’s Health magazine featuring Tara Stiles, yoga and the 100% electric, no tailpipe, zero emission (for tailpipe emissions) Nissan LEAF TM.

It seemed like quite a synchronicity that I just happened to find it during the week of the “maelstrom of discussion” around Judith Hanson Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal about sexy ads. Added to that, in an interview, Waylon had just asked Ms. Lasater, “…A sort of crass commercialism or “spiritual materialism,” as my parents’ teacher put it, seems to be at issue. So wouldn’t SUV ads be more offensive?” Well, here is an ad about a zero tailpipe emission car (there is no tailpipe on the car!) that also shows the commercialization of yoga! But, I’m really getting ahead of myself…

This issue of Women’s Health boasts stories on the cover like, “Eat, Drink & Still Shrink!” and “Flat, Toned Abs, High, Tight Tush, Jiggle-Free Arms.” Are you feeling insecure, yet? I am…

get your best-ever summer body, Tara Stiles, yoga master

In the past (is it still happening?) it’s been bodaciously breasted and curvy women used to sexualize cars in those male-targeted car magazines. Tara Stiles cuts a much more slim and even girlish form as she poses in the Nissan ad. With her hair in a tight bun and clean look she reminds me of a classical ballerina, almost like a girl from the dancer paintings of Edgar Degas without the tutu.

Tara Stiles Nissan ad

In the language of opening a centerfold, the message is clear. (I remember, when I was a girl, pulling apart the little tacky pieces of glue to access my practically life-sized picture of Jon Bon Jovi from Teen Beat or similar magazine…) The yoga sequence is actually in the easy-open part of the ad. Inside the glued part of the spread—the most cherished part—is a picture of the car on one side of the spread and this message on the other side, taking up a whole panel on a plain dark blue background:

slimmer. calmer. healthier

Can you say “xenophobia“?

From the text:

“no chanting. No hard-to-pronounce pose names.”

and

“likewise, the Nissan LEAF is changing perceptions of what a car should be.”

Hmm…so does this mean that “hard-to-pronounce pose names” are like carbon emissions, and that chanting is equally old school/bad?

This ad is questionable (I’d say horrible) in terms of yoga and for global consciousness. When it talks about the “difficult-to-pronounce” names of the poses, I wonder about other “difficult-to-pronounce” words, like learning other languages and global communication (and what about things that can be difficult-to-say like, “I love you.”). Isn’t it important to move past the small worlds of our individual conceptions of things and into a more inclusive understanding of ourselves?

This ad targets something about yoga that I think is good and designates it as something that should be done away with—like an old car. And that’s a shame. Literally.

Tara Stiles will change the way you think about yoga

Yoga was discovered in India. The pose names may seem strange at first because they come from another language. The world is bigger than American culture (which has always been a “melting pot,” anyway), and this is healthy. Yoga can remind us of this important truth. And as a metaphor, the “otherness” of those sounds and chanting can remind us that experience is larger than our individual minds can contain. I love that yoga provides a technique that gives me relief from the tight strictures of my own mind.

The ways of materialist culture as seen in this advertisement seem to be trying to cleanse yoga of its Indian-ness, as if the strangeness of it is a form of pollution. I think that the difference and newness for us is good. We need to practice moving into new spaces and saying new things.

The Nissan ad could be a powerful way to get yoga to women. And though obesity is a national concern, this ad could be seen to feed off of women’s insecurites by reinforcing cultural pressures to be slim and burn calories, a personal concern of women’s bodies. It also taps into a growing concern about global warming, uniting an individual woman’s concern with helping the planet. But along the way, I fear it tramples on difference and ethnicity, also telling us that it’s good to do away with the difficulty of understanding what we don’t already know. [Bonus: a great thing about new media, as an evolution of print media, is that the web invites dialogue and respectful disagreement via our readers, not just writers. Please comment below.]

At places like Elephant Journal, there is a mission to bring consciousness to prevalent images and views. Our tools are also images and words the same tools as have created and support harmful human ways in our world, and we use these to attract attention to ourselves: I just think that it’s important to look inward and see what we are deciding to put out there and honor where it is really coming from. Even people striving to live a life of conscious actions and spiritual uplift can lapse into simple visual and verbal masturbation, reinforcing unhealthy stereotypes because that’s a lot of what we already know. I’m not talking about any specific post or person, but I just think that this is how to do it. We need to pay attention (and have fun). I see that we need to use the language (popular, visual, and verbal) that is already here in our common culture, but the established ways are polluting the world and harming our relationships. So how can we use what we know to create what we want?

Moving towards a life where we are living from our best conscious choices is a great aim. It is also stepping into the unknown; the way we are living now is still causing lots of harm.

Elephants: are we writing, speaking and sharing images from a creativity that is grounded in the knowledge of our lives and at the same time creating the future of our dreams?

Good (There’s a lot here that makes me think that the answer is ‘yes’). Let’s continue to strive in that direction, and continue to make all of the necessary mistakes along the way so we can learn how to do it.

What’s good about Tara’s Nissan ad is that it communicates about a car that has the potential to cause less harm to the environment, and it gets yoga to the eyes of a mainstream audience. But it makes mistakes in message, too. As a people, can we learn, and continue to refine our technology and communication, and understand as well as embrace our relationship with a global reality including environment, sexuality and community?

I say yes!

* This article is lovingly provided by Yogic Muse *


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About Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at: brookshall.blogspot.com.

Comments

85 Responses to “Slim, Sexy Yogini + Car, and what the heck are we sayin’ here at Elephant?”

  1. Newshoes522 says:

    YES.

    Thank you for this post.

  2. Brooks, This is a brilliant piece.

    As you probably know by now, I'm a Yoga Universalist. I embrace and enjoy Yoga in all its forms.

    I love that Tara Stiles and others are exposing millions of people to Yoga who would know nothing about it otherwise.

    I also loved learning recently from Linda Sama's blog about a 10-volume ancient Yoga text I had never even heard of, which Georg Feuerstein considers one of top four Yoga texts, in the same class as the Bhagavad Gita, written in Tamil not Sanskrit, called The Tirumandiram (See Linda's eye-opening blog a classic yoga text…but not the one you think.) And I'm actually thinking about getting it. (This kind of blockbuster is common on Linda's blog, clearly one of the brightest stars in the Yoga blogosphere.)

    I personally see absolutely no contradiction between these two extremes. I Iove the diversity. I think the Yoga pie is infinitely expandable. There is plenty of pie for everyone and I see no need to push one thing over another. I see absolutely no turf or purity to protect. All forms of Yoga help support each other.

    Let it all explode in every direction and each individual will gravitate to the type of Yoga that is right for them. We don't need to lead anybody to the true path. We just need to keep it all out there and visible.

    I have faith in the individual. I don't think people are so malleable and manipulatable that they will end up in the wrong place for them.

    People with a more spiritual bent will quickly move from the Tara Stiles introduction to more spiritual kinds of Yoga. Those for whom it is a good fit will quickly find Linda's blog and learn about more traditional Yoga.

    Those who aren't so spiritually inclined, or, more commonly, have their spiritual needs met in other ways because they are already Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or whatever, will still be better off for the health and fitness-oriented Yoga Tara is offering them.

    People will find what's right for them, given their individual interests and other spiritual involvements they already have.

    The only thing to keep people from finding the right Yoga for them is never hearing about it in the first place. So, in my opinion, the more entry points and exposure points of all types there are, the better.

    So, I am unconcerned about the Tara Stiles approach to Yoga.

    That said, your blog above is one of the most balanced, fair-minded, and eloquent essays I've ever read on why I should be.

    Fantastic work. Great thinking. Great writing.

    Bravissimo!

    Bob Weisenberg
    YogaDemystified.com

  3. Aron says:

    Well written and thoughtful article I applaud your effort. Personally I don't see anything wrong with the concept or execution. As a yogi and marketer, getting any kind of non-traditional advertising approved is nearly impossible. This campaign gives exposure to both yoga and green technology in an interesting and elegant way. Are you really going to be critical of something like that? Ideally we could have a peer review of every yogi, and every person who might be offended or negatively influenced, and come to a meeting of the minds with enlightened corporate executives. But that is truly unrealistic. This is as good as it gets on many levels so enjoy it for what it is. Marketing like this does not come along very often and we should encourage it rather than be hyper critical and read to much into it, projecting our biases and beliefs. It's just an ad. And a very good one.
    As far as wanting to westernize Yoga and get rid of the 'wierd words' I'm all for that too. There is nothing wrong with making yoga as accessible as possible. Nearly every successful eastern tradition that has thrived has had to do that when it migrated to the rest. Most people than not are going to be turned off by Sanskrit words than those who like how exotic they sound. After 20 years of doing yoga if I never heard the word Namaste again, I would be a happy camper.
    Truth like nature, adapts.

  4. aquinn says:

    I think Tara is great in the ad. Whatever people want to project onto her fit body is not about a problem with her. Maybe people need to look at themselves when they do that.

  5. johnson says:

    I'm disappointed she's not naked!

  6. candicegarrett says:

    wow. I love this article. I have been trying to put into words the way I feel about statements like "no chanting here." And while I largely agree with Bob that there are many flavors of yoga (and that it should be that way) I am always sad to see the greater philosophy or language of yoga advertised as "polluting" (as you so aptly put it), because for me they are so rich and fulfilling.

  7. Emily says:

    Thank you for such a lovely piece. For me, I see things that make us uncomfortable as that which we need to further explore. I do believe that there is space for yoga that is "totally modern", a yoga that may first be about a "workout", but may eventually lead someone into a deeper practice. i have seen it happen a lot (and not as well…), these workout styles can be like gateway yoga. As long as it is done with respect! What a great space this is for conversation! Thank you elephant!

  8. Here's the correct link for Linda Sama's blog referenced in my first comment above:

    a classic yoga text…but not the one you think

    Bob W.

  9. ARCreated says:

    as always your writing is like a picture into my brain :) Thank you.

    I will chant and namaste and submerse myself in the ancient art of yoga…let those that want tara stiles version enjoy it…but you may want to avoid my class, and how sad to lose out on something different…personally I think it's because we want the short cut to everything — personally without the chanting and asanas etc it's just stretching and aerobics class…but that's my opinion…seems to me the POINT of YOGA as a whole is ALL of it.. BUT I was taught that "yoga will find a way" so if you get people interested they will take it their next level …I just wish it wasn't advertised in such a way to make traditional yoga sound so awful..don't like all the "trappings" of YOGA??? go to pilates :)

  10. ARCreated says:

    I too worry about the SLIMMER stuff…as a curvy vegan, yoga instructor (hey god made healthy women with hips too) I hate to play into the idea that slimmer is better, that yoga will make you skinny …. I prefer to promote the idea that it will make you healthier in mind body spirit….

    all that aside I'm excited about the car.

    It begs the question: is it YOGA if you don't practice all parts of it??? YOu know I re-read the ad and I think yeah i'm actually sort of annoyed…it turns it into being all about the body…just the body??? that's NOT yoga…that's exercise (and asana practice is good exercise) but it's NOT yoga…really it's not. Because YOGA can be done without moving at all…just sitting and chanting without all the poses is still YOGA…but the poses without the spiritual? just movement…I don't mind people using the form to get in shape just prefer they didn't call it yoga.

  11. What a terrific discussion you've generated here, Brooks. And such a wide range of surprising viewpoints!

    This is Elephant at its exhilarating best. Thank you.

    Bob W.

  12. bindifry says:

    when i was doing yoga in india, a woman fainted on my mat & had to be dragged out of the room. this happened twice-different skinny women. guruji (pattabhi jois) used to pinch women to see if they had enough meat on their bones. he would get angry, tell them to eat & come back later after a few chapatis.
    i also knew a few skin & bones ladies who would not even eat a banana in india because they feared it would make them fat.
    that model obviously has zero strength. her arms are not built by yoga. they are like toothpicks.
    a lot of people won't even enter the yoga room because they think the prerequisite is to be anorexic & naturally flexible. one needs flexibility in the mind, not the body to do yoga.

  13. Richard Bird says:

    Nice Article – I haven't seen the ad yet – As for the Nissan Leaf I've only seen the ads with Lance Armstrong during the Tour de France. A 100% electric car with no emissions excites me . . . environmentally speaking.

    As far as Yoga originating in India – there are several account that we can find it in Ancient egypt as well as Viking heritage. Not Brett Favre, but maybe it could give us ten more years of him!

    I no longer teach in sanskrit but it does carry a nice vibration . . . nice for Tara Styles, yoga master.
    BTY – have you noticed what industries are not using yoga to sell products? Me neither

  14. Baba Rampuri says:

    Bob,

    What kind of response is that?

    Don’t be so paranoid. Smile! I guarantee you that i don’t want you to be like me, think like me, or be anyone else but yourself. One of me is quite enough on the planet. I am not selling anything here, I’m pointing out what is obvious to many of us who have committed our lives to Yoga.

    There is no need to be my agent, represent my feelings, my thoughts, and interpret them in such an opposite way. What you write are not my statements or intentions, but misrepresentations. I haven’t attacked you. This is not something personal. I thought that we were yogis in discussion, and that we were above pettiness, which is one of Patanjali’s main themes.

    We are not in competition, Bob.

    Of course we are in different worlds, it’s obvious. Is that a problem? Must the “Same” reject the “Other?” I suggest that unless the “Same” engages the “Other” there cannot be communication, love, or compassion. The fact we live in different worlds is the value. Magic happens where worlds meet.

    I don’t reject your world, I haven’t a clue as to what your world looks like, your thoughts, feelings, relationships, and you couldn’t possibly accept mine as it is so obscure and has such difficult access. And I’m certainly not selling my world, there’s nothing to buy into. I don’t have an ideology to sell.

    But I do fully accept the American Yoga movement, the marketing and selling of yoga, as I see it as a powerful alternative to a civilization in collapse. That people can finally sit on the ground again, on the earth, experience and tune their bodies, question what they always believed about their health, and for some to question even further – this is great. And that others may earn a living teaching, writing, and speaking about this instead of a boring, useless job is God sent. Selling Yoga mats instead of Coca-Cola is balancing for our society.

    I tell traditional Indian Yogis the exact opposite of what I tell you. I tell them, “Look at these people in the West who have nowhere near the immersion in Yoga culture as you do – THEY realize the enormous value in this, be it monetary, spiritual, or health, and they have generated a multi billion dollar industry that is a sign, a mark of its enormous value while you guys take it all for granted, and sit on your asses. I really say it just like that. And its not money I’m talking about, it’s value, which is different. They don’t get offended, they understand I’m offering them some insight that I have because I have become equally a part of two worlds.

    A number of years ago, I was having dinner with Bikram at his home in L.A., and in a tone not inconsistent with his public personality he bragged not untruthfully, “If I hadn’t done what I’ve done, there would be one million less people practicing yoga.” “Bravo,” I replied, “But if some ‘naked baba’ hadn’t sat in that cave for all those years, you wouldn’t have the yoga to teach in the first place.” I’ve known Bikram for many years, it’s the only time I remember him remaining silent.

    Bob, we’re all in this together.

  15. Amanda says:

    Note to Bob, you don’t have to post an answer to ever comment. You are like a person who interrupts a conversation between several people commenting on everything someone says instead of letting it flow between everyone. Annnoying. These comments would be a lot easier to read without having to plow though lots of yours which essentially makes the same point. Thank you for your consideration.

  16. Janice says:

    Great thoughts here, Brooks! Especially like the exploration of the idea that difficult to pronounce words should be avoided. I worry about that with one of my colleagues. He is a great guy with a difficult to pronounce first name. I hope this doesn't impede his growth at the company where I work. He has so much to offer.

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